Posts Tagged ‘EU’

boris rope

 

Early results in the UK “Brexit” vote are showing unquestionably that the referendum is much, much closer than we thought yesterday.

At this point in time, it is looking increasingly possible that the UK has, in fact, voted to Leave.

Whatever has happened in reality, we can now clearly state that this will NOT be a big or biggish win for Remain as we predicted, with what definitely appears was foolish over-confidence. It might well become a win for Leave as the night goes on, or if Remain do stumble over the line it will be only just, and probably with the help of a large Remain vote in Scotland, London, and parts of the South East.

Some early assumptions can be made with confidence:

The “working class” in England and South Wales has voted significantly more heavily for Leave than was expected.

The BBC’s chief political correspondent Christopher Hope has put the referendum result into a historical context. His opinion is its set to the biggest uprising against the people who run the UK since the Peasants Revolt in 1381.

This may be for two reasons.

Firstly, the working class may well be (indeed, almost certainly are) using the referendum to express generalised dis-satisfaction with the sitting Conservative government, and David Cameron and George Osborne in particular, and even with the general conduct of democracy in the modern era, full stop.

In particular, working class resentment over population movement and immigration has been ignored for too long. We do not believe that the bulk of Britain’s working class are racists, although there are some, without question. But they are increasingly anxious about the pace of change, and concerned about their terms and conditions of employment. Immigration is an easy target on which to blame the effect of austerity measures.

Secondly, the Labour Party in the UK, which delivered very mealy-mouthed leadership on the issue, has seen its call to Remain steadfastly ignored by its own supporters, delineating again, if further evidence was needed, that the working class is much less “ironed on” to Labour than it used to be.

The Scottish turnout seems to be lower than might have been expected, and that is probably a result of what people will call “referendum fatigue”. Nevertheless, the Scottish National Party’s strong “Remain” position seems to have substantially carried the day north of the border.

Wales – the area of the UK that probably benefits most from EU largesse – has nevertheless voted in large numbers for Leave. This again looks like a failure of the Labour Party to turn out its vote or a result of strong dis-satisfaction in industrial areas like the South Wellian valleys, Swansea and elsewhere, although the capital Cardiff seems to have voted for Remain.

Even in areas like Southampton and Portsmouth in the South, Leave votes are piling up in working class areas in those major urbanised areas. And as this is about the total votes cast one way or the other, that is bad news for Remain.

Even areas of the South that cannot possibly be considered “urban”, such as West Dorset and the Isle of Wight, have voted for Leave.

Big Remain votes in inner London could just turn it round for the IN campaign, but that may be the wishful thinking on behalf of the Remain camp. Interestingly there is a marked difference between the inner core of London and the East End and Essex. The more culturally polyglot centre of London might back Remain, but the old-style working class areas on the fringes are voting to back Leave.

Turnout in London is high (as it is in the rest of the country) and that has to be good for democracy – at least whoever wins will legitimately be able to claim a mandate.

The natural reversion to the status quo which we predicted appears – very rarely – to have been largely ignored. This may be one of those very, very unusual occasions when the people overturn the tables in the Temple and send the moneylenders packing.

What this is, unquestionably, is a victory for those who ran a highly effective scare campaign about the EU. Likely results of a Leave win will be very significant economic disruption, including a run on Sterling, and depression of stock markets worldwide. Indeed, Sterling and the Market futures are currently down about 5%, to levels not seen since 2009. The Bank of England may well have to intervene in the morning to create stability. Whether losses will be fixed up as the dust settles it is too early to say. There is little doubt that part of the story in the next 24-48 hours will be huge market volatility.

Whatever the result as the night in the UK wears on, one thing becomes very clear. Britain is split right down the middle, and the disputation of the last few weeks (in particular) needs to be addressed.

Likely winners out of this situation? Definitely Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, one of whom will very likely replace David Cameron sooner rather than later if Leave prevail, or even do very well. In either case, their stock will be boosted. For Prime Minister Cameron, calling this referendum may well come to be be seen as “the longest suicide in history”, to steal a term from earlier days.

A renewed call for the Labour Party to replace its current leadership team is very possible. Corbyn has completely failed to enunciate a Labour argument for “In”, and it could see the beginning of the end for his improbable tilt at history.

If Leave succeeds, Nigel Farage, even more improbably, will go down as one of the most historically significant British politicians of the post World War 2 period.

And the European Union will never be the same whatever happens.

What is not generally understood by many people is that if Leave HAS won, this would just be the beginning of a long, tortuous process to untangle a fiscal, trade and regulatory mess. It will be years before a “Brexit” can actually be achieved, (at least two years), and what that would look like has not be explained in any detail by its proponents. Sadly, this is one that will run and run.

We’ll be back if we have anything else intelligent to say, beyond “We read that utterly wrong in predicting a big Remain win”.

Which is the wonder of democracy. No one can ever take the electorate for granted.

And that’s a really good thing, whatever side you’re on.

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Jo

 

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have often bemoaned the brutalisation of politics. The way “anti politics” has become the new norm. A politics which is little more than cynicism, mistrust, name-calling and sloganising. It is seen most clearly and more than ever in the mindless forwarding of memes that brook no discussion, because no discussion is possible.

Those with an agenda to drive will accuse this blog of descending into vitriol on occasion. We reject that accusation. Politics is a serious matter, and you cannot “do” politics without disputation. Indeed, disputation – the contest of ideas – is the very core of freedom. And if we have, and it can be demonstrated, then we will recant and apologise.

But there is a difference – a gulf – between healthy disputation and hatred. And hatred has become the new normal, and relatively recently, too.

Whether it is in America, France, Denmark, Norway, the UK or Australia. Whether it is a discussion of guns, of racism, gay rights, of female emancipation, the European Union, or, most obviously, immigration, refugees and specifically Islam. The attitude that “you are with me, 100%, or you are evil and worthy of whatever abuse I choose to throw your way” has taken deep root. With the ascension of Trumpism, most obviously, we see how the inchoate mass rage generated by mindless sloganeering translates into political power, and then political violence. Democracy is a fragile flower, and it is wilting.

This article discussing Jo Cox’s assassination – for that is what it was – says it better than we can. We strongly recommend you read it. Because hatred is never funny. Hatred is never smart. Hatred is never right. Hatred is never appropriate.

Sure, “politics is a contact sport.” It doesn’t have to be murder.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/a-day-of-infamy/

In slightly better news, #ThankYourMP is trending in the UK. Many people simply saying thank you to their MP, whether or not they vote for them. Well done, whoever thought that up.

This is YOUR pension that is vanishing.

Dear British person: this is YOUR pension that is vanishing.

 

Brexit is bad for you.

Today, the markets took a downward turn. It wasn’t in reaction to a terrorist attack or the threat of a war, but due to the Leave campaign taking the lead in the polls.

This isn’t a conspiracy, this isn’t a part of Project Fear, these are real investors taking their very real money elsewhere because they’re worried that next Thursday Britain will make one of the biggest diplomatic mistakes in centuries. If you are British, don’t ignore the facts next Thursday – vote to remain a part of the European Union.

Meanwhile markets all over the world are nosediving at the prospect. Real people, losing real money.

First there was George Galloway.

Then Nigel Farage’s horrific bright green tie.

Now, the campaign to leave the EU has pulled out their most amazingly cringe inducing weapon of all – an absolutely dreadful parody of Baddiel & Skinner’s iconic soccer song, “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)”.

The ghastly music video is the brainchild of Grassroots Out campaigner and former UKIP Stockton North Parliamentary Candidate Mandy Boylett, who for some reason thought it would be a good idea.

It’s like Ukip Calypso all over again.

We’re willing to bet this video adds a few votes to the ‘Remain’ campaign. And here’s what Baddiel thinks of the Out camp reworking his song:

Badiel

No word yet on how Skinner or the Lightning Seeds plan to vote.

Aerobics teacher Boylett also says she plans to enter the song for Eurovision, which makes total sense. Baddiel said it was “a fabulous suggestion”.

Only in Britain.

For other cultural F*** Ups, just put F*** Up in the search box top left of this page. Enjoy!

eu puzzle

“What did the EU ever do for the UK?”

You hear it asked by well-meaning people all the time. And to be fair, the EU has had its share of bad publicity. We all know it’s bureaucratically top-heavy. We all know it’s clunky and sometimes passes really silly laws. But that said, how has Britain fared from it’s membership of this unique social, economic and political experiment?

We have consistently been supporters of the EU, but not for reasons to do with economic matters.

But with the referendum looming we thought it a good time to re-post this great letter by Simon Sweeney in the Guardian newspaper. Frankly, if you still think “Brexit” is a good idea after reading this, then you’re simply not interested in facts.

“What did the EU ever do for us?

Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade;

Providing structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline;

Regulating for clean beaches and rivers;

And cleaner air;

Insisting on lead free petrol;

Making restrictions on landfill dumping;

Instilling a recycling culture;

And arranging:

cheaper mobile charges;

cheaper air travel;

improved consumer protection and food labelling;

a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;

better product safety;

single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;

the break up of monopolies;

Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;

In the EU we have:

no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;

price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;

the freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;

funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad;

access to European health services;

labour protection and enhanced social welfare;

smoke-free workplaces;

equal pay legislation;

holiday entitlement;

the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime pay;

the strongest wildlife protection in the world;

improved animal welfare in food production;

EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;

EU representation in international forums;

bloc EEA negotiation at the World Trade Organisation;

We have become used to:

EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;

European-wide arrest warrants for criminals;

cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling;

better counter terrorism intelligence;

European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;

support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;

and investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.

All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed.

It furthermore has assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980.

Now the union faces major challenges brought on by neo-liberal economic globalisation, and worsened by its own systemic weaknesses although it is taking measures to overcome these. We in the UK should reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of total government expenditure of £695bn is good value. We must play a full part in enabling the union to be a force for good in a multi-polar global future.

Simon Sweeney,
Lecturer in International Political Economy,
University of York

Despite this, the anti-EU campaign will have the full force of Murdoch’s and the other 4 extremist right-wing media billionaires papers whose straightforward agenda always has been, and still is, to weaken or remove all our human rights and reduce working people to contemporary serfdom.

Over 80% of UK papers are owned by just five extremist right-wing media billionaires: Rupert Murdoch, (Sun/Times), Barclay Brothers (Telegraph), Richard Desmond (Express) and Lord Rothermere (Daily Mail).

Murdoch is Australian/American living in New York, Rothermere lives in France, the Barclay Brothers live in the tax havens of Monaco and Guernsey.

So key question – is in light of the above list of the EU’s successes – why have these billionaires and their loopy political fellow travellers for decades tried to destroy the EU’s democratic institutions? Hmmm?

Don’t be conned. Get the facts, and share them.

As Britons contemplate the possibility of leaving the EU in June – the so-called Brexit referendum – they might do well to consider this infographic carefully.

 

swarm

 

“Swarms” of British refugees (mainly fleeing rain, we are advised) have made their way to Europe courtesy of the EU’s open borders policies. There they have a legal right to work, rest and play.

We say chuck them all back to the UK and build a wall at Calais.

Again.

Seven dead after Greek coastguard vessel hits migrant boat

The lifeless body of a young child was carried out of the water after a migrant boat sank after colliding with a Greek coastguard vessel.

 

This the tragic moment a young child’s dead body was pulled from the sea after a Greek coastguard ship collided with a migrant vessel near the island of Lesbos.

At least seven people, including four children, died when the wooden boat travelling from Turkey to Europe sank on Thursday. The boat sank within minutes of the crash with a 30-metre patrol vessel on Thursday morning, in circumstances that were being investigated. Sources said the boat was seeking to evade the patrol vessel.

Three other victims, “a woman, a man and a minor”, were found later, the coastguard said as Greek rescuers backed by a Portuguese ship and an EU border agency Frontex helicopter combed the waters for the missing.

The 31 survivors who were brought to safety had reported a total of eight people missing.

 

An AFP photographer who witnessed the crash from the shores of Lesbos said the boat went down just two or three minutes after the collision, which took place some two kilometres from land.

The photographer saw rescuers scrambling to pull people out of the water, with a second coastguard vessel and a Frontex helicopter arriving on the scene around 10 minutes later.

The nationalities of the migrants is not yet known but Greece is the primary destination of Syrian migrants fleeing the civil war, via Turkey, trying to find sanctuary in the EU.

 

Two men carry a woman's lifeless body from the sea after she drowned off the coast of Lesbos. Source: Reuters.

Two men carry a woman’s lifeless body from the sea after she drowned off the coast of Lesbos. Source: Reuters.

Scores of migrants have died making the perilous Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece.

On Wednesday, a woman, a young girl and a baby died after their boat sank off Lesbos. In total, more than 450,000 people have arrived in Greece, most of them fleeing the civil war in Syria. The International Organization for Migration says more than 600,000 migrants have landed on Europe’s shores since January, while more than 3,000 had died or gone missing in the attempt. Approximately 4 million Syrians are internally or externally displaced.

What this latest tragedy underscores, yet again, is the crucial need for the countries surrounding the Middle East to open up more legal channels for people fleeing war and persecution, so that they do not have to risk their lives to reach safety, a point made repeatedly by the UN refugee agency.

As we said, seemingly alone amongst politics-watchers, the storm in a teacup – albeit a very big, expensive teacup – is duly passing.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras votes during a session at the Greek parliament in Athens early 23 July 2015

The Greek prime minister secured the votes after a debate into the small hours

Greece has taken a crucial step towards a bailout after its parliament passed a crucial second set of reforms.

The passage of the measures means that negotiations on an €86bn European Union bailout can begin.

The reforms include changes to Greek banking and an overhaul of the judiciary system.

Thousands demonstrated outside of parliament as the bill was debated, with protests briefly turning violent as petrol bombs were thrown at police by a few anarchists.

There had been fears of a rebellion by MPs but Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was easily able to must the support required. In total, the measures received 230 votes in favour and 63 against with five abstentions. Among those who voted against were 31 members of his own Syriza party. However, this represents a smaller rebellion than in last week’s initial vote. Demonstrating the breadth of understanding that the reform package had to pass,former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was one of those rebels in the first vote who returned to vote with the government this time.

Speaking before the vote, Mr Tsipras stressed that he was not happy with the measures that creditors had imposed. Well, he could hardly have appeared chirpy, could he? That would have been political suicide.

“We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe,” he told MPs.

Representatives of the European institutions that would provide the bailout funds will begin negotiations in Athens on Friday.

Last week, Greece passed an initial set of austerity measures imposed by its creditors. These were a mix of economic reforms and budget cuts demanded by the eurozone countries and institutions before bailout talks could continue.

This second set of measures passed early on Thursday morning were of a more structural nature, including:

  • a code of civil protection aimed at speeding up court cases
  • the adoption of an EU directive to bolster banks and protect savers’ deposits of less than €100,000
  • the introduction of rules that would see bank shareholders and creditors – not taxpayers – cover costs of a failed bank

More contentious measures – phasing out early retirement and tax rises for farmers – have been pushed back to August. As we said, these issues were always going to be the can that got kicked along the road. The political fallout will need to be managed by the Greek Government and that cannot occur in a few days.

Negotiations will now begin on approving the terms of a third bailout, with the aim of completing a deal by the middle of next month. It’s a tight timetable but doable. What is not clear is that Mr Tsipras still has to decide whether a successful conclusion of negotiations should be followed by early elections. Our bet is not.

The deal explained

On Wednesday, the European Central Bank (ECB) increased its cash lifeline to Greek banks.

The emergency injection of an extra €900m (£630m), the ECB’s second in a week, came just hours before the vote.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed on Monday that Greece had cleared its overdue debt repayments of €2.05bn and was no longer in arrears. The repayments, which included €4.2bn to the ECB, were made possible by a short-term EU loan of €7.16bn.

Greece’s next major deadline is 20 August, when it must pay €3.2bn owed to the ECB, followed by a payment of €1.5bn to the IMF in September.

Essentially, the deal is akin to a Bank lending money to a drunken defaulting home owner to repay the mortgage they unwisely lent them in the first place. There is a lot of talk about how irresponsible the handling of the Greek economy has been by successive Greek Governments – not to mention that tax avoidance is something of a national sport – and that is all true.work greeks

What has been especially annoying in much recent commentary has been the characterisation of the Greek people themselves as lazy. In fact, the opposite is true. They put in some of the longest hours of any workforce in the EU. Needless to say, the Greek people know this, and their anger at having to carry the burden of the stupidities of generations of those that rule them is justified. That they could be working more productively is hardly the point. At some stage, the role of both private management, union leadership and political governance needs to be taken into account. It’s not all the fault of the “bleedin’ workers”.

What also needs to be factored in is that for decades now Europe has been lending Greece money for Greece to spend on vanity infrastructure projects supplied to them by Europe – arms is a classic example, manufactured mainly in Germany – Greece has a ridiculously large navy, for example – so the EU is at the very least as culpable in helping the Greeks to get into this mess in the first place.

Historically, Obama’s intervention to urge the Europeans to settle with Greece will be seen, for those attuned to geo-political balances – as the tipping point. What is encouraging is that some of the other economic basket cases in Europe have not instantly put their hands up for extra funds. It appears that brisk diplomacy – along the lines of “Shut up, guys, we need to sort this out, we’ll look at your situation down the track” – has worked in a timely fashion. But the Eurozone is not out of the woods yet.

One good start for Europe would be to substantially reduce the overhead structure of running the EU itself. The peoples of the constituent countries might be more amenable to pulling their heads in if they see the bloated and out of control Euro bureaucracy being made to do the same. No matter how pro-EU anyone is – and we are pro-EU, for political reasons more than economic ones – the Eurocrats need a serious haircut, and fast.

Graphic: BBC

Graphic: BBC

 

(BBC and other sources)

farageOuch. There will be a few of these, no doubt, as the UK election progresses to its climax next month.

One has to feel a little for politicians and their minders, sometimes. Even when they are about as far across the political divide from ourselves as it is possible to be.

Not only do they have to watch what they say, but as Nigel “UKIP” Farage discovers here, they even have to watch the signs they are walking next to as well.

Cue some poor media adviser flack being sacked for not predicting the photo, one suspects, and a bonus from the media proprietor to the photo-journalist who we bet stood there for a while to get the shot.

OK, yes, it’s utterly trivial, but it’s fun. And it’s Friday.

slipperyPerhaps more worryingly for Farage and his party, and the Tories, both of which constantly rail about the cost to the National Health Service of “health tourists” chewing up NHS resources in Britain, stats have just been released showing that holidaying Brits cost five times as much to Spain, Italy, France etc etc as incoming tourists cost the Brits.

The gap is largest in the cases of Austria and Germany. Austria’s health service spent 43 times more – £5.6m – on treating British travellers than the NHS did on those from Austria – £130,000. Germany, which is visited by 2 million Britons every year, had to pay 34 times more than the NHS – £22m compared to £643,000. Still, they’ve both got pots of money, so who cares, eh?

One of the joys of following an election is when a few facts interpolate themselves into the bullshit.

Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, center, arrives in Pretoria, South Africa Tuesday, April 7, 2015 for a state visit to the country.. Mugabe will be in the country until Thursday and will meet with South African president Jacob Zuma - photo AP.

Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe arrives in Pretoria, South Africa Tuesday, April 7, 2015 for a state visit to the country. Mugabe will meet with South African president Jacob Zuma – photo AP.

We will bring more to you as we go along.

Meanwhile, on the same theme, we sincerely hope the photographer who snapped this shot of Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe in South Africa has already fled to somewhere safe, as this photo has gone viral worldwide, and the afro-fascist doesn’t have a reputation for a very vibrant sense of humour.

tuni-MMAP-mdThe so-called “Arab Spring” was hailed at the time in the West as the beginning of a creeping democratisation of the Middle East, belatedly joining most of the rest of the world on the faltering path to democracy, separation of powers, and so on.

What is clear is those expectations were vastly overblown.

What happened in Egypt was one nasty dictatorship was replaced by an even nastier one when “democracy” elected a Government unacceptable to the military, to the capitalists, and to the West. In Libya the West got rid of Gadaffi but a lack of central leadership meant we replaced him with a series of vicious tribal warlords controlling their own little chunk of the country. We fomented an uprising against Assad in Syria and ended up with a brutal civil war and IS. In the deeply conservative Gulf States any change has been entirely negligible. If nothing else, the West has learned that involvement in the Middle East is always a matter of herding cats.

But there is one shining example of success. In the cradle of the revolutions that swept the Arabic-speaking world, the secular party Nidaa Tounes has now won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, according to two analyses of results across the country. The Islamist party has apparently accepted the result with good grace. “We have accepted this result and congratulate the winner,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, told Reuters. Zitoun said the party reiterated its call for a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country.

North Africa expert Michael Willis, a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, said the decline in Ennahda’s electoral popularity reflected public discontent with their handling of the economy. “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” Nidaa Tounes is 10 percentage points ahead of Ennahda. It has won 83 seats, with roughly 38 percent of the popular vote, to Ennahda’s 68 seats, representing about 31 percent of the vote, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported after tabulating its own count of 214 of the 217 parliamentary seats.

A parallel tabulation conducted by a Tunisian election observer organization, Mourakiboun, placed Nidaa Tounes at 37 percent and Ennahda at 28 percent. Those figures were based on a random sample of 1,001 polling centers across the country, with a margin of error of 2 percent and 1 percent on the respective totals.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new political process.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new democratic political process.

Officials from both parties said that although premature, the counts matched their information.

Official results have not yet been released, and parties are restrained by law from announcing their own count before the election commission does. Provisional results are expected on Monday, but final results will take at least 48 hours.

Early results also showed a surprise gain for the party of the Tunisian tycoon Slim Riahi, who ran a flashy campaign that included handouts and pop concerts. Some of the smaller political parties fared badly under a new voting system, in particular Ettakatol, a coalition partner in the former government.

Nidaa Tounes, led by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, 87, is an alliance of former government officials, liberals and secularists that was formed in 2012, largely in reaction to the post-revolutionary chaos under the Ennadha-led government. It was sharply critical of the Islamists’ performance and ran a campaign for a modern, secular society.

The results, if confirmed, would be a blow for Ennahda, which won a large popular vote and 89 seats in 2011 but struggled to manage rising insecurity and a sliding economy.

Tunisians filled polling stations on Sunday to elect a new Parliament, expressing a strong desire and some trepidation that, after months of political turmoil, the country would turn a corner nearly four years after a revolution.

Officials said the provisional turnout was nearly 62 percent, which election observers said demonstrated Tunisians’ support for democracy.

24The elections are the second in Tunisia since the popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and set off a wave of change that was later dubbed the Arab Spring. They will bring in a new Parliament and government for a five-year term. Presidential elections are scheduled for next month.

The immediate return for Tunisians in maintaining a lid on tension and achieving a peaceful transition will be, of course, yet more tourism dollars flooding into the country. The country has also maintained close relations with Europe, and with France and Italy in particular, with growing mutual trade.

colloseumAn island of sanity in troubled north Africa, it is also an exceptionally interesting and beautiful country, with a fascinating history of civilisation going back thousands of years, notably being the home of the Carthaginian Empire which was so dominant in the Mediterranean area in centuries before Christ, and it was later occupied by Rome which made good use of its vast fertile soils to produce huge amounts of cereals, plus olive oil, figs, and more. Various waves of conquerors including Ottoman, Arab and French have created a multi-layered and outward-facing culture.

The country lies within a couple of hours flight from the major population centres of Europe. No-one could begrudge them this “peace dividend” and let us hope they continue to provide a beacon for sanity for the whole Arab-speaking world. Indeed, the rest of the region can learn much from Tunisia beyond its peaceful transition of power – it also has a large number of women MPs, a highly progressive code of individual freedom for women, Islamic extremism is rare (although not non-existent), the country enjoys a relatively open low-tariff economy, and it is accepting of Christian and most significantly Jewish minorities.

Today, we salute the Tunisian people for their fortitude and commonsense. When we rail and wail at the inability of much of the region to behave intelligently, let us look to the example of Tunisia, and hope.

It’s an important day today (well, tomorrow, over there, as we post this from Melbourne), for UK voters.

The furore over the rise and rise of the extraordinarily right wing and virulently anti-EU UK Independence Party – and its charismatic but somewhat questionable leader Nigel Farage – has kept us both mildly horrified, fascinated and occasionally amused.

As you know, Dear Reader, we like to be helpful, so we supply this very helpful chart from Huffpost UK to all those uncertain whether they should place their “X” against UKIP in the Euro and Local elections. Very funny, and thank you to them.

 

Image

 

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we are the “pick and stick” types. We are on record (for nearly forty years now) as supporting the most pro-European party, the Liberal Democrats, and we have often written pro-EU columns (and then ducked and run for cover as the brickbats inevitably come flying from an electorate thoroughly sick of some of the nonsense that admittedly goes on in Brussels). We are, frankly, old enough to remember – if not the war itself – then the ripple effects of the war, and we profoundly believe in the “European project” as a matter of principle.

UK voting

Nick Clegg, this is going to be ugly.

But we are also on record as being of the opinion that the Lib Dems are heading for an absolute shellacking under the woeful current party leadership and especially that of Nick Clegg, the Leader himself.

We strongly suspect the party we love and believe in (still) will go close to being wiped out in some areas, perhaps many areas – and we bitterly regret what will be the unwarranted loss of many hard-working Lib Dem Councillors who have done nothing wrong and much right in faithfully representing their local wards – and that they will also endure a thoroughly humiliating performance in the EU elections.

So although results will be patchy, and the leadership will talk up all Lib Dem successes for all they are worth – and although we are fervently not hoping for a bad result for the LDs, just expecting it – we are sure we will be proven right.

And we expect a leadership spill with Nick Clegg “tapped on the shoulder” soon after, too. You heard it here first.

Incidentally, one serious word of advice to all intending UKIP voters.

Remember, any decision to leave the EU cannot be taken in Brussels, it must be taken in Westminster. So voting UKIP in the EU elections will achieve, er, precisely nothing, if you are in the “get out at all costs” brigade.

Except, of course, to give a bloody nose to the major parties. Which, as many have pointed out, is probably precisely what you are intending to do. And probably why, precisely, you will return to voting Labour and Conservative at the next General Election, and to a lesser extent Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru and Scots Nats, despite all the “gosh wow look what happens if we extrapolate that vote to a Westminster election” coverage that UKIPs successes will lead to tomorrow.

And you heard that here first, too.

(Partly sourced from Reuters)

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Two high-profile Egyptian trials, both arising from years of turbulent protests, have delivered sharply contrasting sentences in the space of just a few months.

In March, a policeman was convicted of shooting at protesters, deliberately aiming at their eyes, during demonstrations in November 2011.

The man dubbed the ‘eye sniper’ was sentenced to three years in prison.

This week, 21 women and teenage girls were found guilty of obstructing traffic during a pro-Islamist protest last month. The 14 women were imprisoned for 11 years, while the seven under the age of 18 were sent to juvenile prison.

You read that right. 11 years in an Egyptian jail for peaceful protest. So much for the democracy of the “Arab Spring”. Yet despite this palpable injustice, the West, and other power blocks, have remained very cautious about criticising the Egyptian military too strongly, obsessed with the fear of another fundamentalist Islamic state being established on the broken bones of what has been in recent years both a key Western ally and in earlier decades a co-operative partner to countries like Russia and China. Everyone seems to prefer a military crackdown to another Islamist Government to deal with.

The verdicts stunned local opposition and rights campaigners, even by the standards of a crackdown in which security forces have killed hundreds of Islamists and arrested thousands since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July.

“The ruling was shocking. We could not believe that Egypt would lock up its girls with the excuse that they are a threat to security,” said Ramadan Abdel Hamid, whose 15-year-old daughter Rawda and wife Salwa were among those sentenced. One can only imagine his anguish.

“Is this what is going to calm Egypt?” he asked. The answer is surely “no”.

As army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implements a promised roadmap towards elections, the United States and other countries are watching closely and has repeatedly urged the interim government to treat its opponents with restraint.

Since Mursi’s fall, the US has frozen some military aid to Cairo. The European Union has been encouraging political reconciliation in a bid to stabilise Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal.

PARDON SOUGHT

The security forces have been lionised by state and private media which denounce the Brotherhood as terrorists. But convicting women and girls who peacefully back Mursi has raised the campaign to a new level that could risk provoking a backlash.

So far there have been no street protests against the sentences, but criticism has appeared on social media.

Even leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi called for a presidential pardon, even though he is a fierce opponent of the Brotherhood.

The sentences could give the unpopular Brotherhood some political ammunition as it tries to recover from the crackdown that has all but decimated the movement.

In a statement, an alliance of pro-Brotherhood parties said: “The judiciary rules against the girls of Alexandria within days and goes at the speed of a tortoise in the trial of Mubarak and his gang.”

It said the verdict “proved that the independence of the judiciary has passed away”.

In the picture above, An anti-government protester waves a flag with a picture of youth activist Gaber Salah, during a rally against a new law restricting demonstrations, in front of Egypt’s Parliament in Cairo. Photo: Reuters.

DELICATE ISSUE

women protestingStreet protests are a highly sensitive issue in a country where people power has led to the downfall of two presidents in less than three years, beginning with veteran autocrat – perhaps kleptocrat would be a better phrase – Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The sentencing of the women and girls coincided with tensions over a law passed on Sunday that tightly restricts demonstrations.

While many Egyptians support Sisi and his roadmap, and while Mursi could never be considered to have ruled with any great skill nor restraint himself, even non-Islamists are becoming more critical of the military, suggesting the authorities may have to tread more cautiously.

“I was surprised by how quickly this case was decided,” said Anwar El Sadat, a former member of the People’s Assembly and chairman of its Human Rights Committee. “I was hoping they would show some mercy, especially because it’s women and girls.”

Tamara Alrifai of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch described the case as “shocking”.

“The seven girls are underage and considered children,” she said. “It is part of a wider campaign to put a halt to protests. People seized the right to protest in 2011 and they are trying to take it away from them.”

Relatives of the women and girls have condemned the court ruling, but said it would strengthen their resolve against what they call the military coup to remove Mursi.

womenSohanda Abdel Rahman, 13, said she could not believe her mother was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

“This is an oppressive and political sentencing,” she said after visiting her in prison. “But we began the path and know what will happen to us and we will not retreat.”

Those words should cast a chill through the collective consciousness of the Egyptian military. Here at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we would simply like to advance some arguments that invariably seem to be ignored time and again by politicians and military men the world over, with the same inevitable effect, and the same inevitable suffering for innocent people. As sure as night follows day:

  • History shows that the will of a people cannot be overcome forever.
  • People who disagree must eventually be brought to peaceably agree, no matter how far apart their opinions seem to be.
  • Peaceful protest can never be wrong.
  • Jailing innocents solves nothing.
  • Persecution is sooner or later served back ten-fold to the persecutors.
  • Local conflicts become civil wars in the blink of an eye.
  • Civil conflicts spill beyond a country’s borders like water finding its own level.

 

As many warned with Iraq, as we warned on this very blog with Syria – a conflict that we said was about to hurtle utterly out of control when the dead still numbered in the dozens not in the hundreds of thousands – Egypt is a live powder-keg and the fuse is lit. Anyone who thinks that moderately advanced countries with modern cities cannot stumble into chaos is ignoring Greece after the Second World War, they’re ignoring the Balkans, they’re ignoring Lebanon. Hell, they’re ignoring Europe in 1939.

And if a major conflict breaks out in Eqypt, one can see an Al Qaeda (and fellow travellers) fuelled insurrection right across the top of northern Africa, and spilling down into countries like Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Sudan … essentially a brushfire that could rapidly become uncontainable, setting Africa back a hundred years, destroying the trade its people need to live, with potentially millions of casualties, and cruelling fledgling moves to democracy. Meanwhile the Syria, Iraq, Iran situation continues to destabilise that region – with Israel uncomfortably co-existing between warring Sunni and Shia tribes, then Afghanistan without a sufficient American and Allied presence descends into turmoil, then Pakistan, then India …

Welcome to World War 3.

Over alarmist? We suggest you Google “Gavrilo Princep”.

Gestures can change perceptions. They can affect the public mood. Dramatically.

So: time to release those women? Well, that’s what we think. And fast.

An old friend of mine from the UK emails me with a rant against the idiocies of the European Union. Unusually, I find myself agreeing with much of what he writes, and sympathising with his rage at paying extra taxes to support Greek taxi drivers who, well, er … don’t.

Civilian casualties in WWII

Since 1939, civilian dead have outnumbered combatant dead in conflicts by more than 10-to-one

As a liberal of some forty years conviction, friends will not be in the least surprised to discover that I am “pro” European integration. However, I have always been a sceptical pro-European, because I don’t think the pro-Europe cause is helped by blinding ourselves to the EU’s obvious failings.

The bureacracy IS bloated, expensive, top heavy, and petty. The compliance regime IS ludicrous. The Euro DOES distort markets – I mean, after all, it’s supposed to.

However, I am old enough to remember the effects of World War Two. My Dad, having served for six years, died of too much stress, two many fags and two many drinks at 47. He was a cheerful man, but broken. And he got off lightly.

For many of us, European Union is the best (and most successful) solution to the eternal problem of too many competing powers crammed into a very small space.

The murderous collapse in the former Yugoslavia revealed the result of NOT enforcing political union. And the United States is built on the same principle, even though they fought a nasty civil war to bed it down.

That’s why political union has always been a goal of mine, and it inevitably leads to some sort of economic union, messy, unwieldly and occasionally downright chaotic as it is. In my opinion, the pro-Europe lobby has for far too long been afraid of admitting it is wholeheartedly in favour of political integration – gutless lack of leadership – and the core of the argument has got lost in the mists of time because of it.

Well, I stand with my head proudly above the parapet, knowing that most Brits would gladly shoot it off right now. A disfunctional European Union is a better option that a disfunctional Europe. Just ask my Dad.